The Moral Logic of Survivor Guilt 

Categories: EthicsGuiltPhilosophy
About this essay

Survivor guilt is the responsibility soldiers feel for a death or suffering, even when it is not their fault. Soldiers see a tremendous amount of suffering and often blame themselves for it. For example, Captain Bonenberger’s friend Specialist Jeremiah Pulaski was killed by a police officer. Before his death, Pulaski had saved Bonenberger’s life twice during the war, but Bonenberger was not able to help Pulaski. Captain Bonenberger blamed himself for the accident even though it was not his fault.

He stated, “When we were in trouble, he was there for us. I know it’s not rational or reasonable. There’s nothing logical about it. But I feel responsible.”

Many soldiers feel guilt, responsibility, and betrayal of other soldiers. There are many types of guilt. The author states, “Subjective guilt, associated with this sense or responsibility is thought to be irrational because one feels guilty despite the fact that he knows he has done nothing wrong. Objective or rational guilt, by contrast – guilt that is “fitting” to ones’s actions — accurately tracks real wrongdoing or culpability…” Soldiers also feel responsibility, even when they weren’t responsible for the death or suffering.

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The last emotion soldiers feel is betrayal of other soldiers. The fell they have broken the “‘sacred band’” that makes them feel like family (The Moral Logic of Survivor Guilt). Most of the time, these emotions are counterfactuals; the soldiers should not be blaming themselves for things they don’t have control over.

One day in Iraq, the gun on a Bradley fighting vehicle misfired.

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The bullet hit Private Joseph Mayek in the face. The doctors were unable to save him. Captain John Prior claimed that he was the one who placed the vehicle and the security. He stated, “…I dealt with and still deal with the guilt of having cost him his life essentially….There’s probably not a day that doesn’t go by that I don’t think about it, at least fleetingly.” He feels true guilt, not regret that things didn’t transpire differently. In this case, Captain John Prior was responsible for the accident, making his guilt objective.

The author focuses on telling what it means to be “good” because being good helps eliminate guilt. We must not lack what we need to be good. The author states, “Aristotle and his ‘Nicomachean Ethics’ insists on the point: ‘virtue is concerned with emotions and actions;’ to have good character is to ‘hit the mean’ with respect to both.” Having a good character is essential to lack of guilt. When one has a bad conscience, the result is misbehavior. This ends up leading to guilt. Therefore, one must be able to be strong emotionally and think about their actions. This will result in good character, which will eliminate most guilt.

The definitions and examples help the reader get a better understanding on what it means to be “good.” Examples and direct definitions often help the reader better grasp the information given. This is especially true when one doesn’t know the meaning of a word. For example, when the author wrote “…culpability: guilt is appropriate because one acted to deliberately harm someone, or could’ve prevented harm and did not,” in her sentence. This ensures that the reader knows what she is talking about. Some readers may not care to find the definition of a word when they don’t know it. This results in not understanding the text. As one can see the, the use of definitions and examples helps immensely when trying to understand a passage or text.

In the quote Prior states, “I’m the one who placed the vehicles; I’m the one who set the security. As with most accidents, I’m not in jail right now. Clearly I wasn’t egregiously responsible. But it is a comedy of errors. Any one of a dozen decisions made over the course of a two-month period and none of them really occurs to you at the time. Any one of those made differently may have saved his life. So I dealt with and still deal with the guilt of having cost him his life essentially…. There’s probably not a day that doesn’t go by that I don’t think about it, at least fleetingly.” This backs up the author’s claim in many ways. First of all, when Prior states that he is guilty, it confirms that he is not feeling regret that things didn’t occur differently. Prior is feeling true guilt for his actions. This statement also tells that he is experiencing rational guilt because he did do something wrong. This statement tells that he did not do “good,” he did “bad,” and he is now paying for it. This proves that your actions do affect whether you do “good” or “bad.” This statement tells a lot about the author’s claim. It is the prime example of how any occurrence or action can affect how you feel.

Quoting Prior helps give proof that the author’s claim is correct. It also helps the reader connect with the situation. Prior stated, “Oh it was terrible…the letters weren’t just very matter of fact — here’s what we did today; it was more like a mother writing to her son.” This made him feel worse about what occurred, and the reader can see that. This helps the reader truly understand how terrible the soldiers feel about the suffering they see each day. Quoting someone helps keep the reader interested in the text, and it helps the reader understand the message being conveyed. Without quotes, the readers couldn’t see things from the victim’s point of view. Quoting Prior was a good decision because of all the benefits that come with it.

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The Moral Logic of Survivor Guilt . (2022, Dec 09). Retrieved from

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